Book Reviews -- Men without Women: Female Bonding and the American Novel of the 1980's by Donald J. Greiner

Article excerpt

Men Without Women: Female Bonding and the American Novel of the 1980's. Donald J. Greiner. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. 135 pp.

A latent indignation underlies Donald Greiner's study of female alliances in selected fiction by contemporary American women novelists which, despite his attempts to ground discussion in feminist theory, reveals a kind of petulance about women making and occupying their own worlds, as well as a failure to appreciate the powerful impetus that drives their attempts to circumvent or disrupt the patriarchal order. The book is articulate and offers some thoughtful insights, but on the whole it seems ultimately to be more of a bellyache than a revision of our thinking on gender questions.

Greiner's basic argument is that recent female writers have taken over what he considers the central paradigm of canonical American fiction, wherein men form deep friendships and then flee into the wilderness to escape women and expurgate the feminine. In the new version of the paradigm, Greiner argues, women in fictions such as Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, Mona Simpson's Anywhere but Here, Hilma Wolitzer's Hearts and others, effectively reverse the gender pattern, enacting female relationships predicated upon the repudiation of men.

Such attachments are seen by Greiner as in some fundamental sense hypocritical, since the women who adopt them in his view embrace the sexual hostility and disposition to separatism that underlies the model they are supposedly rejecting. He maintains that, while a new generation of male writers like John Irving, Frederick Busch, Richard Russo and Douglas Ungar have reconstructed the paradigm to celebrate a bonding process that involves both men and women and relinquishes the impulse to take flight from the opposite sex, women writers are becoming more firmly entrenched in gender polarity. …

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